N Korea drought to aggravate food shortage

N Korea drought to aggravate food shortage
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects an army-run farm in an undated handout photo.

SEOUL - North Korea's food production is forecast to fall by up to 10 per cent this year due to a prolonged drought, which has battered its traditional rice belt, a South Korean government report showed Tuesday.

If the shortage of rainfall lasts until early July, the North's crop production could decline by as much as 20 per cent from last year, the South's Unification Ministry said.

North Korea has suffered regular chronic food shortages - hundreds of thousands are believed to have died during a famine in the mid- to late-1990s - with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts and mismanagement.

UN figures show up to 70 per cent of the country remains food insecure and 28 per cent of children under the age of five are stunted.

Partial agricultural reforms have improved crop yields, and were cited in the ministry's report as the main reason food production slipped only 10,000 tonnes last year, to 4.8 million tonnes, despite a damaging spring drought.

Kim Jong-Un, who became leader after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, in December 2011, allowed farmers to keep 30 per cent of their production quota, plus any excess. Last year their portion was raised to 60 per cent, the ministry said.

But the prospects for this year are distinctly gloomy, given a prolonged drought and lack of fertiliser, the ministry said.

In May, precipitation across North Korea reached 56.7 per cent of the average rainfall recorded between 1981 and 2010.

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